The caller to SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Thursday morning couldn’t contain his excitement that Chase Elliott is coming back this weekend at Martinsville Speedway after missing the past six races due to a fractured tibia.
With conviction, the caller said that Elliott would not only win this weekend at Martinsville but also do so the following weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.
Elliott chuckled when told this, but he appreciates the support of that fan and the rest of Elliott Nation during his recovery.
“Their support has been vital,” Elliott told NBC Sports on Thursday. “Just being at the shop the last couple of days and seeing the fans’ response to the news of getting back to the track.
“To go in the shop and to have the guys, your teammates at (Hendrick Motorsports) across the board be like, ‘Hey, we’re glad to have you back; we’re looking forward to going back to the racetrack with you.’ That stuff means a lot, and I think so does that coming from the fans because those are the folks that you see as you go to these different parts of the country.”
As to winning this weekend at Martinsville?
“Martinsville is certainly going to be a challenge,” Elliott said. “I don’t anticipate any of them to be easy. They’re never easy anyway, but certainly when you’ve been sitting out and your competitors have been racing and continuing to sharpen those tools and I haven’t.
“I do think it’s going to be tough, but I certainly believe we can go up there and have a really strong performance and get back in the groove. But we’ve got to have our ducks in a row, and I think it’d be good just to get back in the swing of things, and we’ll kind of see where it goes from there.”
Hendrick Motorsports announced March 3 that Elliott had been injured snowboarding in Colorado and confirmed the following day that Elliott had surgery to repair the fractured tibia in his left leg.
“Landed on my knee wrong and went down,” Elliott told NBC Sports on Thursday. “I wish I had a cooler story to tell. That’s what I told a lot of my friends. It was nothing. Nothing cool. Not a cool part of the area. Just kind of that perfect storm of hitting the right way and tweaking your knee in just the right spot.”
Elliott said he had a friend with him that day who got help for Elliott.
“They had to drag me down the hill. I hated to be that guy,” Elliott said, chuckling. “There was no way I was going to ride (the snowboard) down that point. I didn’t want to hurt it worse. I just didn’t think that was the right thing. My buddy that was there was great, just helping get things facilitated, logistics coordinated. Folks came and scooped me up and off we went.”
Elliott called his father, Bill, and told him what had happened. Eventually, Elliott had to call team owner Rick Hendrick.
“When it got to the point where I had to call Rick and tell him, obviously, I didn’t want to make that phone call, but I had a pretty good feeling that I wasn’t going to Vegas early on,” Elliott said. “When I got to the bottom of the hill and got situated, I hadn’t spoken to the doctors yet, but I went ahead and filled him and (crew chief Alan Gustafson) in about what was going on and where I thought it was.
“I just said, ‘Hey, (not racing at Las Vegas) is a possibility.’ … From there, we just started working it out, and everybody was super professional about it. Obviously, no one was excited about it, but everybody had my well-being at heart and I certainly appreciated that. Since then, has just helped me really work through it as a team. Their support and really across the entire organization has been very, very positive, and we’re just happy to be back to somewhat normal.”
So what is somewhat normal?
“Just going back to the track is all I’m talking about,” Elliott said. “Just finally getting to the point where the doctors cleared me and felt comfortable enough with sending me back to the racetrack and getting back in the car and just kind of going from there. I think it’s been about six weeks. That was about what we figured after surgery; it would be somewhere around that timeframe.
“Could it have been a week ago, given the right track? Could it have been two weeks ago? Maybe. Depending upon what racetrack you were going to physically, but I think just from a bone integrity standpoint the doctor really wanted me to get to and just to feel comfortable from his standpoint and from my peace of mind, too (that this week was best).”
Elliott said his rehabilitation has been about five or six days a week. He had surgery March 3 and began physical therapy March 6.
“None of the stuff has been super complicated,” Elliott said. “A lot of it has just been getting my range of motion back and getting to the point where, with this particular injury, getting your knee extended is a difficult thing to do. So that was one of the very first things that we started to work on was just trying to get that range. But the extension side has been the more difficult ask of it.”
While Elliott was out, Josh Berry and Jordan Taylor drove the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports. Berry ran the car in five races, and Taylor raced it at Circuit of the Americas.
“I appreciate both of them for coming in,” Elliott said. I think as we go through these next couple of weeks, I hope that Josh hangs out (at the track with him). … I’ve been very involved just from afar, so I would like to spend some time with him and kind of just get his take on how things have gone over the few weeks. I think he’s done a really good job.
“I thought Jordan did a great job to come in in such a last-minute opportunity and something that he has never seen or done. I thought it was really pretty impressive. I’d love to see him get another opportunity. I think he’s a talented guy.”